West European Politics ISSN: 0140-2382 (Print) 1743-9655 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/fwep20 Europe’s crises and the EU’s ‘big three’ Ulrich Krotz & Richard Maher To cite this article: Ulrich Krotz & Richard Maher (2016) Europe’s crises and the EU’s ‘big three’, West European Politics, 39:5, 1053-1072, DOI: 10.1080/01402382.2016.1181872 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01402382.2016.1181872 Published online: 14 Jun 2016. Submit your article to this journal Article views: 881 View related articles View Crossmark data Citing articles: 1 View citing articles Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/action/journalInformation?journalCode=fwep20 Download by: [University of Malta] Date: 14 November 2016, At: 12:54 West European Politics, 2016 VOL. 39, NO. 5, 1053–1072 http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01402382.2016.1181872 Europe’s crises and the EU’s ‘big three’ Ulrich Krotz and Richard Maher ABSTRACT This article examines the impact and significance of the Crimea–Ukraine–Russia and the eurozone crises on relations among and between the EU’s three biggest member states – Britain, France and Germany – as well as their individual influence and roles within the EU. The Ukraine and eurozone crises have revealed and intensified three longer-term developments in contemporary European politics: Germany’s rise as the EU’s most powerful member state and its role as Europe’s indispensable policy broker; the resilience and centrality of Franco-German bilateralism, despite the growing power imbalance separating the two; and Britain’s diminished and diminishing role in EU affairs. To put the current period of turmoil in perspective, this article also aims to contribute to a better understanding of the operating logic of crisis, continuity and change in the relations of the EU’s big three member states. KEYWORDS Crimea‒Ukraine‒Russia crisis; eurozone crisis; Britain; France; Germany; European Union The European Union today faces a set of crises that threaten its historic achievements of the past six decades. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and de facto invasion of eastern Ukraine represent direct challenges to the post-Cold War European security order and the principles that have defined it, including territorial integrity and the inviolability of national borders. A revanchist and revisionist Russia complicates European security affairs in ways many Europeans hoped and expected had disappeared with the end of the Cold War. The debt and banking crisis in the eurozone has exposed serious flaws in the design and implementation of monetary union and the single currency. The euro was intended to unite Europeans and EU member states economically and politically. Instead, it has driven them further apart and has become a growing source of tension and division. While independent of each other, these two predicaments pose deep and fundamental questions about the nature, shape and future of the European project and of European affairs more broadly. While various studies have analysed the implications of these two crises for the EU’s polity and its policies, this article directly addresses the impact and significance of the Ukraine and eurozone crises on relations among and between the EU’s three biggest member states – Britain, France and CONTACT Ulrich Krotz [email protected] © 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group 1054 U. Krotz and R. Maher Germany – as well as their individual influence and roles within the EU. As the member states with the deepest reserves of power and influence, these three historically have had the greatest ability to shape outcomes and find solutions to common EU problems. When some combination of the trio leads, other member states often fall into line, whereas when they do not – or when they cannot agree on how to lead – paralysis and gridlock often result. Whether the EU emerges from these crises as a stronger and better functioning polity, therefore, or as a weakened and hobbled giant, will depend in large part on the choices, actions and policies of the EU’s big three member states.1 Relations between the big three comprise various formulations, including one trilateral relationship (Britain‒France‒Germany) and three bilateral ones (Britain‒France, France‒Germany and Britain‒Germany) – as well as the ebb and flow of national policies, roles and strategies. A trilateral ‘concert of powers’ or ‘directorate’ has never emerged within the EU. Much more important for the shaping of European affairs and EU politics and policies have been the various bilateral relationships. In addition to frequently being central in security and defence initiatives, the Anglo-French partnership has at times aimed to serve as an informal hedge or balance against German power and influence within the EU.2 While Anglo-German bilateralism has never been central to the politics of European integration or to EU affairs more generally, Britain and Germany are often reliable allies in promoting free trade and market-oriented economic policies within the EU, and serve as a counterweight to the statist initiatives often preferred by France and other member states (Parker and Peel 2012).3 The Franco-German partnership has played by far the deepest and most fateful role of the three bilateral relationships in shaping the scope, depth and pace of European integration.4 Franco-German reconciliation – the ability to overcome centuries of rivalry, war and mistrust to build a constructive and functioning bilateral relationship – has been the very core, and a sine qua non, of the European project. While differences and disagreements have always existed between Paris and Bonn/Berlin, the Franco-German partnership has become deeply institutionalised, emerging as an integral part of both the political and public life in both countries and generating its own type of bilateral order.5 To evaluate the Ukraine and eurozone crises’ impact on the roles, relations and influence of the EU’s big three member states, this article addresses three main questions: What is the nature and character of these crises’ impact on their relations, and particularly on how power and authority is distributed among them? Are we witnessing a painful and lasting rupture in their relations, a revitalisation of their commitment to Europe and to their common fate, or to a settled arrangement that lies somewhere between these two extremes? And finally, why and how do the answers to these two questions matter for European politics and EU affairs? This article argues that the Ukraine and eurozone crises have revealed and intensified three longer-term developments in European politics today. The West European Politics 1055 crises have affirmed and hastened Germany’s rise as the EU’s most powerful member state and its role as Europe’s indispensable policy broker; shown the resilience and centrality of Franco-German bilateralism, despite the growing power imbalance separating the two; and displayed Britain’s diminished and diminishing role in EU affairs. This article does not aim to provide an exhaustive analysis or review of these two crises or their long-term consequences. Instead, it seeks to clarify and evaluate the three developments listed above and their implications for European politics. This article also shows how the Ukraine and eurozone crises, which are different in many obvious and important respects – the one primarily an issue of regional security and the other primarily an issue of political economy and monetary affairs – and which are usually considered separately (except, perhaps, as two sources of stress and tension on European politics and decision-making today), do in fact exhibit several distinct and surprising underlying similarities, most notably revealing the same three broad trends in European politics today listed above. In addition to analysing the impact and significance of the Ukraine and eurozone conflicts on the EU’s big three member states, we also hope to better understand the operating logic of crisis, continuity and change in their relations. Doing so will not only help to put the current period of turmoil in perspective, but will also allow us to fill a gap in our understanding of the operation of the EU political system. Even after six years of turbulence, concepts such as crisis, continuity and change remain incompletely understood by scholars of EU politics. This article proceeds as follows. The first section introduces an analytical framework to study continuity and change within the EU political system, and the broader implications for EU affairs that they entail. The next two sections analyse in turn the Ukraine and eurozone crises and how they have affected the distribution of power and authority among the EU’s big three member states and their individual political roles and orientations. The conclusion reflects on this article’s main findings and the implications for and study of European and EU politics. Crisis, continuity and change in big three relations From their beginnings, the Ukraine and eurozone crises have generated various disagreements and disputes over policy and strategy among British, French and German policy-makers, from the scope and severity of Russian sanctions, to the proper way to stabilise and reform the eurozone. Quarrels and squabbles among the three have existed since the beginning of the European integration process, of course, and have notably included de Gaulle’s veto of Britain’s membership application to the European Economic Community (EEC), the fear and anxiety Germany’s post-Cold War unification instilled in London and Paris, and 1056 U. Krotz and R. Maher Britain’s controversial opt-out of the Franco-German plan for monetary union. Ultimately new bargains, new rules and new institutions resolved these and other periods of crisis, and integration either consolidated or moved forward.6 Scholars, policy-makers and pundits today reflect on whether the EU’s big three member states will be able to overcome the current period of crisis and avoid a fundamental rupture in their relations – or if the twin shocks of Russia’s undeclared war against Ukraine and the protracted eurozone turmoil might slowly pull the EU apart (Soros 2014). The Ukraine and eurozone crises have also prompted scholars to think more deeply about the management and resolution of political conflict within the EU, institutional and political cohesion in periods of crisis, and the dynamics of continuity and change in member state relations.7 Crises are important historical junctures – ‘extraordinary moment[s] when the existence and viability of [a] political order are called into question’ (Ikenberry 2008: 12).8 Within a political order like the EU, crises lead to one of three possible outcomes: breakdown, transformation or adaptation. Breakdown involves the disappearance of the old system. Fundamental disagreements arise over the political order’s basic underlying bargains, norms and principles. The old order does not reconstitute itself. New institutions, rules and structures do not replace the old ones. Instead, disorder replaces order. At the extreme, balance of power politics and strategic competition may return when the old order falls apart. Few observers seriously imagine that this could be the fate of Britain, France and Germany today, even if the bonds of political or economic integration further weaken or unravel – whether through a British exit from the EU, growing tension over economic policy in the eurozone, or some other, unanticipated development.9 The form breakdown would take between the three would be different, but nonetheless significant and far-reaching. Breakdown most likely would involve the collapse of the single currency, a broad repatriation of power and authority from Brussels, or perhaps even a German‒Russian rapprochement that would come at the expense of EU goals and policies. Breakdown would lead to a significant downgrade in relations between the big three and a lasting reluctance to embark again on projects of economic, social or political integration. To date, big three relations – and the EU political order more broadly – have shown no inclination toward this outcome. Crisis can also lead to a transformation of the system (or policy sub-systems), which leaves the order in a fundamentally different state. In this scenario the political order is maintained but restructured in basic ways, leading to new political and institutional arrangements. States, perhaps together with EU-level entities, develop new governance structures. The basic rules and norms of the order are renegotiated, and new bargains replace old ones. Transformation would involve a serious and sustained effort by the three to create a more cohesive polity, probably with further transfer of power and West European Politics 1057 authority from national to supranational institutions and bodies. The Ukraine crisis could serve as a catalyst for the creation of a more robust European security and defence framework, for example, either among the three or embedded within EU structures and institutions. To overcome the problems of monetary union and the single currency, the three (or, more likely, France and Germany) would lead efforts toward clearer and more robust rules, or more fiscal or political integration. Such transformative steps have not yet been taken, and, given the current political climate, appear unlikely in the near future. The third outcome is adaptation, which is in between breakdown and transformation. Adaptation constitutes a continuation of the political order in its fundamental respects. The old order is not completely replaced, but the formal mechanisms of the old order are altered or modified. New rules and institutions are added to cope with new challenges, disagreements and problems. At times inelegant and often muddled, ad hoc responses to crises or other unsettled situations, adaptation would include incremental yet meaningful modifications to eurozone governance, such as tighter fiscal and budgetary rules; clear mechanisms for state bankruptcy, eurozone exit, or bailouts; or yet further enhanced policy tools for the European Central Bank (ECB). Regarding the Ukraine crisis, adaptation would involve further development of common EU policy instruments and capabilities in foreign and security policy, including on the rules and mechanisms that govern the imposition of sanctions and other coercive measures against third-party countries. As the next two sections show, to date both the Ukraine and the eurozone crises have led to adaptation rather than to breakdown or transformation of big three relations and the EU political order more broadly. The Ukraine crisis: the return of geopolitics to Europe Russia’s seizure of Crimea in March 2014 and its ongoing proxy war in eastern Ukraine directly challenge the post-Cold War European political and security order. The conflict has already claimed over 9000 lives and has derailed more than two decades of fitful efforts to pull Russia closer to the West. The crisis not only threatens to reverse Ukraine’s post-Communist economic and political gains, but has also created a level of uncertainty over Russia’s intentions and behaviour unmatched since the days of the Cold War.10 The crisis also represents a serious setback to the Eastern Partnership (EaP), the EU’s signature initiative to build closer ties with Ukraine and five other post-Soviet states. Moscow still views these territories as part of its privileged sphere of influence, despite repeated Western warnings and admonitions that such behaviour belongs to Europe’s past. Geopolitics and security competition have thus returned to the European continent, with an increasingly revisionist, nuclear-powered Russia openly challenging the post-Cold War status quo (Legvold 2016; Lo 2015). 1058 U. Krotz and R. Maher Though violence has abated since the signing of the February 2015 Minsk II ceasefire agreement, the situation in Ukraine remains dire.11 The country is facing economic and financial collapse, its military forces stand no chance of retaking territory seized by the Russian-backed separatists in the east, and there is growing concern across European capitals that eastern Ukraine is moving toward becoming a ‘frozen conflict’, marked by interminable violence and the absence of a lasting and stable peace. Rather than leading to breakdown or transformation, however, the Ukraine crisis has led to the adaptation of the EU political order. Individual EU countries have not abandoned the pursuit of European unity for the potential of enhancing their own privileged ties with Russia. Nor have they taken decisive steps toward greater integration, especially in defence, to counter the Russian threat. Instead, Britain, France and Germany have coalesced around a common approach toward Russia’s actions in Ukraine. This strategy has mainly included trying to prevent a more serious deterioration of the security situation in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, dissuading Russia from pursuing any steps that might lead to further instability, either in Ukraine itself or at points further west, and raising the costs Russia must pay for bullying its neighbours. Shared concern that Russia may destabilise Ukraine if Kiev pursues a deeper economic and political relationship with the West, indignation over Russia’s flagrant breach of international law, and Germany’s ability to coordinate a common approach amid disparate attitudes and interests among EU member states have bolstered this consensus. The Ukraine crisis has also revealed and sustained three bigger trends in European politics today: a more visible and important leadership role for Germany, the resilience of Franco-German bilateralism (though marked by a reversal of traditional roles in crisis diplomacy), and Britain’s growing disengagement from EU affairs. Germany: bound to lead The Ukraine conflict marks the first time Germany has played a leading role in a major international security crisis since the end of World War II (Speck 2015). German Chancellor Angela Merkel was instrumental in negotiating the 13-point ‘Minsk II’ ceasefire agreement in February 2015, and Germany has been at the forefront of designing and implementing EU sanctions against Russia, the principal policy instrument EU countries have used to punish Russia for its actions in Ukraine and to deter it from taking yet more provocative steps.12 The conflict has coincided with an effort by some German policy-makers to see their country take a more active role on regional and global security issues. Speaking at the 2014 Munich Security Conference, for example, German President Joachim Gauck called for greater German engagement in West European Politics 1059 international affairs. Germany at times uses its National Socialist past as an excuse, he said, to not contribute to pressing global problems and concerns (Bundespräsidialamt 2014). Still, Berlin has assumed its new leadership role in the Ukraine crisis more by default and necessity than by deliberate choice or design. Neither other EU member states nor the EU itself are able or willing to lead, and the United States has largely left it to its European allies to manage the crisis, thereby forcing Germany to coordinate the Western response. Another reason Germany has taken a leadership role in the Ukraine crisis is because it has more at stake than do to its British and French partners. It is not clear, for example, that Germany would have adopted a similarly active response had a crisis of similar scale and magnitude appeared on the EU’s southern rather than its eastern periphery. Russia is both a major energy provider for Germany and an important export market for German goods. And since Germany has more interests at stake in Eastern Europe than do Britain or France, Russia has the greatest potential to threaten German rather than British or French security and welfare, as it did for more than four decades during the Cold War. Given its extensive commercial and energy ties with Russia, Germany also has more leverage over Moscow than any other European country (Szabo 2015). Germany is Russia’s biggest trading partner and source of investment, while Germany imports more natural gas from Russia than any other EU country. Some analysts speculated that this expansive commercial and energy relationship might make Germany the principal obstacle to a unified EU response toward Moscow (Kundnani 2015b). Merkel has consistently and sharply condemned Russian actions, however, and has emerged as one of Russia’s fiercest critics in the EU. She has described the annexation of Crimea as ‘criminal and illegal’, and has called on Russia to abandon the ‘politics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries’ (Myers and Smale 2014). She has also voiced concerns that, without a strong and unified Western response, other post-Soviet states, and possibly even Serbia, may be the next victims of Russian aggression (Smale 2014). While the conflict has demonstrated a new German foreign policy activism, it has also revealed the limits of Germany’s power and influence. As observers inside and outside the country have pointed out, Berlin still lacks a military dimension to its power projection capability. Germany is, furthermore, both unwilling and unable to issue security guarantees to countries in Eastern Europe that feel threatened by Russia, such as Poland and the Baltic states. Instead, these countries continue to look to the United States as the ultimate guarantor of their security. The conflict has also underscored some of the continuities in German foreign policy, such as its reluctance to rely on military power as an instrument of its foreign policy. Merkel has ruled out a military response of any kind, for example, including arms shipments to Ukrainian forces fighting anti-government rebels.13 And fearing that Moscow would view such a step as a provocation, 1060 U. Krotz and R. Maher Germany has rejected proposals to establish a permanent NATO deployment in Eastern Europe, instead favouring the creation of a rapid-response force that can respond to crisis situations as they arise. While Germany has had the biggest impact on the timing and scope of EU sanctions on Russia, the longer the conflict continues the harder it will be for Berlin to maintain EU unity. Two examples reveal the challenges of maintaining long-term economic and political pressure on Russia. London, home to many Russian oligarchs who store their wealth in City financial institutions, has been reluctant to impose measures that might jeopardise this lucrative arrangement. France, whose arms sales to Russia are the highest among European countries, was forced to cancel a Russian order for two Mistral-class amphibious warships as a result of pressure from its EU and NATO allies (Smith 2015).14 As sanctions increasingly damage their own commercial, financial and industrial interests, and as they seem to have at best a limited impact on Russian behaviour with respect to eastern Ukraine, political leaders and interest groups in Britain, France, Germany and other EU countries will question the utility and wisdom of maintaining sanctions over the longer term. Germany will then be forced to decide how much pressure, if any, to impose on its own EU partners to continue to isolate and punish Russia. Franco-German bilateralism: role reversal and crisis diplomacy The Ukraine crisis has revealed a reversal of the traditional roles in crisis diplomacy for France and Germany. Capturing the reality but also the political and moral constraints of German power after World War II, de Gaulle once described Europe as ‘a coach with horses, with Germany the horse and France the coachman’ (quoted in Eddy and Erlanger 2013). Or, as Gunther Hellmann put it more recently, in the decades after World War II, ‘For France to be in the lead was politically necessary, morally justified, and dutifully acknowledged by German elites’ (Hellmann 2016). During the Ukraine crisis, however, Merkel rather than French President François Hollande has played the pre-eminent role in formulating and implementing the EU response to Russia. But while the Ukraine crisis reversed their traditional roles in foreign policy and security, Germany’s unfamiliar leadership role has not replaced, rendered obsolete, or come at the expense of FrancoGerman bilateralism. In fact, there are compelling reasons why Germany will seek to further strengthen its bilateral relationship with France as its own power expands. Merkel was eager to have Hollande by her side during the negotiations in February 2015 that produced the ‘Minsk II’ ceasefire agreement, for example, and to include France in the so-called ‘Normandy Quartet’ – the four-power group composed of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine. Despite Hollande’s participation in the ceasefire talks and France’s formal presence in the Normandy West European Politics 1061 Quartet, however, there is little doubt that Merkel is leading while Hollande is following when it comes to formulating and implementing policy responses toward the crisis (Pond 2015). This marks a major departure in their traditional post-war bilateral relationship. Germany wants to have France by its side for two main reasons. First, Germany is still deeply reluctant to be seen to be pursuing a unilateral role in foreign policy, especially on such sensitive and important political and security questions as those raised during the current Ukraine crisis. Having France by its side gives Germany cover and endows its initiatives with greater legitimacy, both at home and abroad. Second, having France on board generally makes it easier to get other EU member states also on board. French and German positions – whether in economic, political or security affairs – are often seen to be at opposite ends of the spectrum of available European policy responses. Historically, if France and Germany are able to reconcile their policy differences and arrive at a common position, other EU member states are likely to do the same.15 The Ukraine crisis has thus shown that German leadership and FrancoGerman bilateralism are not mutually exclusive. Moreover, the desire to maintain at least the appearance of Franco-German bilateralism is not for idealistic or sentimental reasons, but rather because both countries continue to understand that they are better able to achieve their individual and common goals when they work together. Britain: bystander to crisis Despite traditionally being one of the EU’s two main diplomatic and military actors, Britain has played a comparatively small role in the Ukraine crisis. Prime Minister David Cameron did not take part in the February 2015 Minsk ceasefire negotiations, for example, leading some influential British voices to accuse him of being a bystander to the crisis.16 Also absent have been any major Anglo-French initiatives similar to those during previous security crises, such as the 2011 Libyan intervention. Nor have there been any major Anglo-German or Anglo-American initiatives or coordination. Like other foreign policy establishments across Europe and the United States, the crisis caught British policy-makers off-guard. The British Parliament released a report in February 2015 stating that Britain and the EU had made a ‘catastrophic misreading’ of Russia and of Putin’s intentions before the crisis. Britain and other European countries ‘sleepwalked’ into the conflict, the report concluded, treating it as if it were only a trade matter rather than a foreign policy and security issue.17 Combined with the small role it has played in trying to resolve the eurozone crisis, Britain’s relative absence in the Ukraine turmoil signals a broader retrenchment for Britain in EU and even global affairs (LSE Diplomacy 1062 U. Krotz and R. Maher Commission 2015; Menon 2015). If this trend continues, the EU’s ability to become a potent foreign policy and security actor will be seriously impaired. Among EU member states, Britain and France have the most capable military forces and the most experience in security and defence operations. And as permanent members of the UN Security Council, they also hold significant diplomatic experience and clout. Eurozone crisis: dashed hopes and an uncertain future The crisis at the heart of the eurozone constitutes one of the most serious and fateful trials in the six decades of European integration. The vicissitudes of the past six years have not yet precipitated a breakdown or transformation of the mechanisms that govern the eurozone. Instead, the turmoil has led to an at times muddled adaptation or bending of some of the eurozone’s main rules, norms and institutions. Since the onset of the crisis, a number of new institutions and initiatives have been created and implemented, including the European Financial Stabilization Facility (EFSF), European Stabilization Mechanism (ESM), a rudimentary banking union, new policy instruments for the ECB, and greater oversight and supervisory powers over eurozone members’ economic and budgetary policies for the European Commission.18 These steps, among others, while falling far short of constituting a true fiscal or political union, have helped to prevent a collapse of the common currency. Such incremental reforms seem to be the upper limit that the vast majority of elected officials, national parliaments and electorates across Europe will currently tolerate. While no high-ranking elected official in Europe has openly advocated an unravelling of the eurozone in its current form, there is also no desire for decisive steps toward full fiscal or political union, which would require new treaties that would need unanimous approval by all 28 EU member states, a feat appearing to be beyond the realm of the possible in the current political climate (Moravcsik 2012). Like the Ukraine crisis, the eurozone turmoil has revealed and intensified three deeper developments in European politics today: Germany’s growing clout, the resilience and centrality of Franco-German bilateralism (despite Germany’s emergence as the eurozone’s and the EU’s indisputably pivotal player), and Britain’s growing disengagement from EU affairs. Germany: primus inter pares The eurozone crisis has highlighted the power and continued importance of national capitals, Berlin above all. Britain’s status outside the common currency and France’s comparative economic weakness has magnified German primacy during the six years of near-constant eurozone summitry. Despite West European Politics 1063 Merkel’s regular consultations with French officials on the proper response to the various problems facing the eurozone and France’s pivotal role in any lasting solution to the plight at the heart of the common currency, Germany has been the driving force behind the various initiatives and programmes since the beginning of the crisis. While Merkel has declared that if the euro fails ‘then not only the currency fails. Europe will fail, and with it the idea of European unity’, German officials have also made clear that there are limits to putting an institutionally shaky euro over its own fiscal position. Concerned that responsibility to bail out struggling eurozone economies would fall disproportionately on itself, Germany has stated that the eurozone must be governed by clear and enforceable fiscal rules. Since the beginning of the crisis, creditor countries and institutions, led by Germany, have insisted on fiscal responsibility and structural reforms in exchange for financial assistance. If countries fail to follow these stipulations, the German Finance Ministry has said, they must suffer the consequences. One of the main paradoxes of the eurozone crisis is that Germany today finds itself as the key member state in a currency union that it never would have entered had it known how it would turn out. Germany has at stake not only vast sums of money – according to some estimates Germany would be liable for more than €90 billion in the event of a Greek default – but also the cohesion, good will and stability it has carefully cultivated over the past several decades. Franco-German bilateralism: divisions, but not divided While tensions and disagreements between France and Germany over basic questions of economic and monetary policy are nothing new, the current crisis has revealed a number of sharp policy differences.19 French officials, for example, have had a stronger desire than their German counterparts to keep Greece in the eurozone, believing that a Greek exit would do irreparable damage to the single currency and to the European project more broadly. A Greek exit would show that membership in the euro area – and perhaps in the EU – is not irrevocable, but rather contingent on the inclination of other member states. German officials such as Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, on the other hand, have made clear that a Greek exit from the eurozone is a possibility, and perhaps even necessary to maintain a fiscally sound and prosperous monetary union (Geithner 2014: 483–4; Smale 2015; Spiegel 2015). France has also been uncomfortable with what it sees as Germany’s rigid approach toward countries with fiscal imbalances. With its own budget deficits, stubbornly high unemployment and tepid economic growth, France dreads German economic orthodoxy becoming further entrenched in the eurozone. But lacking the ability to alter Berlin’s position, Paris has had little choice but to reluctantly follow German prescriptions for fiscal and structural reforms across the eurozone (Vail 2015). 1064 U. Krotz and R. Maher France’s struggle to implement domestic reforms to revitalise its economy – as well as having the least popular President in the history of the Fifth Republic currently in office – has also helped thrust Germany into the eurozone’s leadership position. Though France has struggled to keep up with its partner across the Rhine, Germany’s enhanced role in eurozone crisis management has not come at the expense of, or the perceived desire or necessity for, Franco-German coordination. Despite differences in economic performance and sharp disagreements over economic policy and the future direction of the eurozone, Franco-German bilateralism has proved resilient, and remains essential to any lasting solution to the eurozone’s current problems (Schild 2013). Britain: on the outside looking in Britain’s position outside the eurozone has meant that it has been absent from many of the discussions and decisions on how to quell the turmoil at the heart of the crisis. London has called on eurozone countries to move toward more fiscal integration, but has no intention of joining the currency union itself. At an EU summit in November 2011, for example, Britain vetoed a treaty proposing a so-called EU fiscal compact – the first time Britain has vetoed an EU treaty since joining the EU’s precursor, the EEC, in 1973. As a result, other member states were forced to move ahead separately (Lyall 2011). While Britain has no interest in seeing the eurozone in perpetual turmoil, the present crisis has nonetheless provided Britain with some economic and political benefits. The euro’s weakness makes the pound sterling stronger on global currency markets; continental Europe’s muddle gives Britain greater latitude to exert independence, especially in the debate over the future shape of the EU; uncertainty over the future of the euro has allowed Britain to put off a decision on what kind of relationship to have with it; and the eurozone’s current plight makes Britain’s domestic politics less contentious, since there are fewer political battles between Labour and Conservatives over Britain’s proper relationship with its Continental partners (Marsh 2013: chapter 18). The crisis has confirmed and strengthened many Britons’ opposition to any further power sharing with Brussels institutions. The crisis has provided traditional British Eurosceptics with plenty of ammunition on the supposed dangers of closer economic and political integration, and any possibility that Britain might someday join the common currency has most likely evaporated. There is in Britain today a groundswell of support to renegotiate the status of Britain’s relationship with the EU. Partly as a result, Cameron has scheduled a referendum for 23 June 2016 on whether Britain should stay in or leave the EU. As Britain’s role in EU policy-making becomes progressively smaller, there is likely to be even more support among many Britons to renegotiate their country’s membership status. As one observer noted, ‘In Britain, the case for West European Politics 1065 staying in the EU has been complicated by the fact that, as a non-euro country, it will never be part of the inner sanctum of power, the German-dominated eurozone’ (Cohen 2015). A two-tier (or ‘two-speed’) Europe is emerging, with Britain increasingly on the outside (Piris 2012).20 Conclusion The Ukraine and eurozone crises are different in many important respects, but both reveal three deeper developments in European politics today: Germany’s growing clout, the resilience of the Franco-German axis despite the widening power imbalance between the two, and Britain’s disengagement from EU affairs. Each development is important for the future prospects and direction of European integration. The three happening simultaneously suggests that the European project may be entering a new phase. Yet despite the problems and challenges outlined in this article, to date these two crises have led neither to a breakdown nor to a transformation in big three relations, nor to truly fundamental changes in their individual roles. Instead, the adaptation of EU rules, procedures, institutions, and of their individual influence and orientation have been the main outcomes. The shift in power toward Germany and away from France is not just a reflection of their divergent economic performances since the onset of the global financial crisis. Combined with the inability of French leaders to implement comprehensive economic reforms over the past decade and Germany’s comparatively robust economic growth during the same period, it also reflects less hesitancy among many of today’s German political leaders compared to their predecessors over asserting and pursuing a narrower conception of the country’s interests and responsibilities. Rather than embracing its enhanced and more visible role in Europe, however, Germany has yet to show that it is willing or able to provide the leadership and vision that Europe currently needs. Berlin has avoided supplying key public goods within the EU, for example, such as maintaining a web of security commitments and guarantees or serving as the lender of last resort for eurozone countries facing balance of payments crises. And on foreign policy issues beyond Ukraine, Germany has yet to embrace the security and defence role Britain and France have traditionally held, as well as the burdens and responsibilities that come with it.21 A stronger Germany and weaker France, however, has not rendered obsolete or come at the expense of Franco-German bilateralism.22 Despite the current crises and their at times divergent policy preferences, the relationship remains resilient due to ideational reasons (both French and German leaders continue to believe in the importance of the symbolism of the Franco-German partnership); instrumental reasons (the two countries continue to believe that they are more likely to get what they want when they work together rather than at 1066 U. Krotz and R. Maher cross-purposes); and the deep institutional fabric of the bilateral relationship developed over six decades. One lesson of both the Ukraine and eurozone crises has been that a more active, confident and powerful Germany on the one hand, and a resilient Franco-German bilateralism on the other are not mutually exclusive. It is true that France is weaker today relative to Germany than perhaps at any time since the end of World War II, but this has not extinguished the need or desire for bilateralism. Claims that France and Germany are ‘decoupling’, or that the Franco-German axis is on the verge of collapse, are therefore not just premature – they fail to fully grasp the resilience of the relationship. And as this article has also shown, Anglo-French and Anglo-German bilateralism, or a meaningful unilateral role for Britain, have been largely absent in the Ukraine and eurozone crises. Nor has a British‒French‒German triumvirate emerged as a serious possibility to overcome the present turmoil. It is too soon to fully understand the lasting effects of the Ukraine and eurozone crises, and whether eventually they will lead to deep and transformative changes in big three relations, in their individual preferences and orientations, or the future prospects of European affairs. Europe could go in a number of different directions over the next several years. But what is certain is that how big three member states emerge from the current period of crisis, and the trajectory of their relations and individual roles, will be crucial in shaping Europe’s future course. These crises and the broader trends that they illuminate will also encourage or perhaps even force scholars of European and EU politics to focus on new or different questions, and to re-examine some of their basic assumptions. First, if Germany’s enhanced standing, France’s relative weakening, and Britain’s disengagement persist or become even more pronounced, scholars will have to think more about the role of hierarchy within the EU.23 Will Germany gradually take on more responsibility in the EU, with all the attendant costs and risks, or will it continue to operate as a ‘reluctant hegemon’? Or might Germany increasingly move toward a third option, in which it displays more ambivalence and far greater reluctance in leading the EU than it has shown over the past five years? And as a corollary, will France be able to revitalise its economic prospects and its position in European policy-making? Or will its cherished ‘rank’ and grandeur further erode? Second, if inner and outer circles of membership further solidify within the EU – with Britain firmly entrenched in the outer ring – it will be necessary to better understand the operating logic and implications of what some scholars have called ‘differentiated integration’, ‘variable geometry’, or a ‘multi-speed’ Europe (see for example Leuffen et al. 2012). How will the core and periphery relate to one another? Will it resolve some of the contradictions at the heart of European integration today or accentuate them? And will Britain accept membership in an organisation in which it has less and less influence over West European Politics 1067 crucial questions of governance and authority, or will it decide to downgrade its formal status within the EU or leave altogether? Finally, scholars probably will devote more attention to the impact and significance of crises and other forms of political conflict, politicisation and contestation on big three relations and EU affairs more broadly, and in particular when and why crises lead to a breakdown, transformation or adaptation of the European political order. The current period of crisis affirms that scholars are just starting to understand these dynamics. These and other questions suggest that debates over Europe’s future are just beginning. Notes 1. On the importance of the big three member states in shaping the grand bargains that have propelled the process of European integration forward, see Moravcsik (1998). Historically, France and Germany have taken the lead in shaping the economic, political and institutional development of Europe, while the AngloFrench duo has traditionally led on foreign policy and security issues. On the Franco-German role in Europe, see Krotz and Schild (2013). On Anglo-French cooperation in EU security affairs, see Howorth (2007: 33–7). In recent years Anglo-French security and defence cooperation has centred on the areas of procurement and of joint missions and operations (see Burns 2010; UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office 2010). 2. Upon German unification in 1990, for example, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher raised the possibility of an Anglo-French entente that would serve as a de facto hedge against German hegemony, but French President François Mitterrand never embraced this initiative (see Bozo 2010: 168–70). On the post-war Anglo-French relationship, see Tombs and Tombs (2007: chapters 13 and 14). 3. On Anglo-German relations in the EU, see Larres and Meehan (2000). 4. Accordingly, the Franco-German partnership has received ample scholarly attention (note, for example, Calleo and Staal 1998; Krotz and Schild 2013; Simonian 1985; Webber 1999). On Franco-German bilateralism in security and defence affairs, see Krotz (2011). For a historical overview of France and Germany in Europe from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries, see Krotz (2014). 5. On the bilateral Franco-German order as part of the European polity, see Krotz and Schild (2013: chapters 1–4). 6. These and other times of friction are ably captured in Dinan (2014). For classic long-standing differences within the ‘Franco-German couple’ across a variety of policy domains, see Krotz and Schild (2013: 37–42). On frequently diverging French and German actions and orientations in foreign policy, security, and, especially, defence, see Krotz (2015, chapters 5–8). 7. Among a rapidly growing literature on the problems at the heart of Europe today, see Giddens (2013), Majone (2014),and Offe (2015). 8. The discussion in this section draws from Ikenberry (2008). 9. On how EU disintegration could transpire, see Vollaard (2014) or Webber (2014). For a debate on the future prospects of the European project, see Krotz and Maher et al. (2012). 1068 U. Krotz and R. Maher 10. For early appraisals of the Ukraine crisis and its implications, see Menon and Rumer (2015) and Wilson (2014). 11. The first ceasefire, agreed in September 2014 and, like the second, also in the Belarussian capital, quickly broke down. The February 2015 accord requires, among other stipulations, both government forces and separatists to pull back heavy artillery out of range of each other, the withdrawal of ‘foreign’ fighters and equipment, and allows for Ukraine to regain full control over its borders following local elections in rebel-held territory and constitutional changes that would grant these regions greater autonomy. See Financial Times (2015b) for the full text of the protocol. 12. The EU first imposed sanctions on Russia in March 2014, shortly after the seizure of Crimea. The sanctions have targeted Russia’s financial, energy and defence sectors. In June 2015, with Russia continuing to support its proxy forces in eastern Ukraine, EU leaders announced that sanctions would remain in place until a peace agreement is reached and fully implemented by the Russian-backed rebels. See http://europa.eu/newsroom/highlights/special-coverage/eu_sanctions/index_ en.htm (accessed 15 October 2015). 13. Here Merkel is firmly in line with German public opinion, which strongly opposes any kind of military intervention in Ukraine. Regardless of the wisdom of the policy, however, Merkel’s categorical rejection of arming government forces deprived her of an important bargaining chip in negotiations. 14. Under intense pressure, France suspended the sale indefinitely in November 2014. The order was cancelled in August 2015, with France refunding Russia’s initial deposit (Tavernise 2015). 15. On that logic, see Krotz and Schild (2013: 8–11). 16. General Sir Richard Shirreff, for example, who served as NATO’s second most senior military officer, described Cameron as ‘a bit player’ and a ‘foreign policy irrelevance’ in the crisis (Financial Times 2015a). 17. See House of Lords (2015) for the full report. 18. The literature on the eurozone crisis is now voluminous. Among the best works are Peet and La Guardia (2014), Pisani-Ferry (2014) and Sandbu (2015). 19. For long-standing differences between France and Germany across policy domains and their ways of dealing with them, see Krotz and Schild (2013: 37–42); on differences over economic and monetary policy specifically, see Krotz and Schild (2013: chapter 8). 20. While some scholars have claimed that a common European identity has emerged, Britain’s identity has remained strongly nationalist (Risse 2010). On Britain’s often acrimonious relationship with its EU partners, see Wall (2008). 21. On Germany’s status as a ‘reluctant’ hegemon, see Bulmer and Paterson (2013); Paterson (2011); Schönberger (2012); and Schönberger (2013). Also note Garton Ash (2013) and Kundnani (2015a). 22. On Franco-German ‘embedded bilateralism’ in European politics from the 1950s, see Krotz and Schild (2013). 23. On ‘hierarchy’ in international relations, see Lake (2009) and Wendt and Friedheim (1995). Acknowledgements We wish to thank Brigid Laffan, the other members of this special issue, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful feedback on an earlier version of this article. We also thank Katharina Meißner for valuable research assistance. West European Politics 1069 Disclosure statement No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors. Notes on contributors Ulrich Krotz is Professor at the European University Institute, where he holds the Chair in International Relations, and is Director of the Schuman Centre’s ‘Europe in the World’ programme. 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